’Tis the morning after Polaris Music Prize gala chez Barclay/Spitzer. I should note that we got home well after the morning paper had arrived, and neither of us have a voice to speak with. An impossibly optimistic idea of set-times meant that the gala went on longer than anticipated, which led to the after-party starting very close to last-call, which necessitated an after-after party in a hotel room crammed with rock critics and Patrick Watson and well, you understand my drift. [MB: The after-after-after party consisted of us downing 4L of water each before going to bed.] I'll avoid any less than savoury 30Rock jokes and get to the rock talk.
HS: Don’t you think we’re in remarkably better shape than the last time we did this? For example, this year I am able to eat your incredible breakfast!
MB: No barfy-barf? Jon Bartlett will be so disappointed. Although I almost lost it last night in Steve Jordan’s hotel room with the smell of those open scotch bottles floating around Patrick Watson, Ken Beattie, Brendan Murphy and Ben Rayner.
HS: What's with the babytalk! For the record, I only saw you drink one scotch.
MB: One sip, actually. I poured the rest into Beattie's glass.
HS: I should inform the listeners at home that Mr. Barclay has just put on one of those new-fangled “vinyls” and we are now considering our fate in “being barred from the Temple.” (Thank you Destroyer for giving old rock critics a reason to live.) This was my first twitter of the day yesterday and I was sad that no one got it. But I am pleased that Fucked Up weren’t barred from the Masonic Temple last night, where the Polaris gala was held; I found out only this morning about their security troubles.
MB: Really? Because they mentioned that in their acceptance speech about being frisked every five minutes.
HS: I thought it was hardcore hyperbole.
MB: Patrick Watson and Malajube were almost barred for starting a food fight. It was quite hilarious, as my Quebecois colleague sitting beside me sighed and the TV cameras stayed glued on co-host Grant Lawrence, who was more than prepared to start his sportscasting career with some colourful play-by-play.
HS: I am looking forward to Grant’s sportscasting career. The flying cups et al looked absolutely incredible from above. It was as if the made-for-television barricades fell away at that particular moment. The perimeter was breached and the room erupted in joy. Juvenilia aside (is that even the right word?) it was just exquisite, visually. The shambly rock and roll equivalent of a Busby Berkeley dance sequence.
MB: I was sad that there was only a threat of a thrown chair, with no follow-through.
HS: Oh, Grant’s face at that moment. His deadpan is underappreciated. We should start at the beginning, though. Since there is no getting around the fact we are a hundred years old, how did it feel to have Polaris in the Venue Formerly Known as The Concert Hall?
MB: If I was 100 years old, I’d remember it when it was the Rockpile. [For the record, I don't.] I had so many great memories in that room, from my teenage Toronto: Midnight Oil, Fishbone, Beastie Boys, Pogues, Billy Bragg with Michelle Shocked and Michael Franti (I think you were there as well), and later some great Exclaim parties (including one with Joel Plaskett’s Thrush Hermit). I hadn’t set foot in there since CTV took it over. I don’t know if it’s to the venue’s credit or the evolution of the prize, but the room felt really comfortable—in spite of the studio-like environs—and the crowd was far less staid and shackled by Canadian restraint (see: food fight). Even though lots of people seemed ho-hum about the short list when it was announced, there was real joy and excitement in the room—perhaps in part because the contest seemed wide open, and everybody there thought someone different would win. Myself, I had Fucked Up in the “slim chance” category—shows you what I know.
HS: I think it was Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg, an incredible double bill “back in the day” - and at another time, Billy Bragg and the Disposable Heroes of HipHoprosy (Franti’s band). Two gigs. I also recall going to early Exclaim! parties there – long before I wrote for them or even was their papergirl. And also my last Tragically Hip show before a 17-year intermission. I loved the room! When I got there, people on the second floor were visibly agitated by being told where to stand and where to walk. I do feel for the steadicam operators by the way. Eventually the staff and security just gave in to the general anarchy. It was the rock and roll spirit.
MB: Which brings us to Fucked Up. Your thoughts?
HS: Loved it! Their show was hugely entertaining. I’m glad we had a moment last night where there was that huge transformative power that music has, where the people on stage went apeshit and everyone in the audience was swept along with them. The only other time I felt that unified giddiness and joy and abandon was with K’naan, though it was quite another vibe. K’naan -> international superstar-in-waiting, by the way. I thought my heart might burst. Really felt it in the ol’ ribcage for both of those performances.
MB: What made Fucked Up’s performance for me was actually the guests. Kat and Justin from Lullabye Arkestra shrieked their essential parts on the chorus of “Son the Father” (the only track the band had time to play—no matter, as it’s their best song and they certainly made the most of it), and Owen Pallett started the song with distorted violin loops. I loved all five minutes of their performance, but I also felt like that’s all I needed to see. I feel the same way about the record as well. As an album I don’t feel it deserves the prize, but you can’t knock the band’s attitude and hard work and how much they mean to a lot of people, and how important this win is for a community long ignored by any institutions in this country. On a different note, I was relieved that Pink Eyes didn’t go totally starkers.
HS: I couldn’t make out who was onstage from where I was upstairs, but I heard this incredible sound and then I looked down and recognized Owen by the way his hair was swinging and he was just—forgive the expression—giv’n ’er (spelling?), and it just broke open any confusion I’d had previously about how to understand Fucked Up’s music. That’s one of the great things about the band, something that the believers point out and can’t be apprehended from the album alone: they reach out and they bring in locals wherever they go and it’s how they built their audience, one audience at a time. But I think I’d have to actually go back and listen to that album again; I just don’t think I had the tools to approach that music before seeing them last night. I know enough people out there whose critical opinions I respect who love it. And this happened for me with Kathleen Edwards last year: It took a whole year for me to get what was so powerful about that album—I got it on an aesthetic level—but it took a year to get hold of my soul.
MB: People had that same reaction to K’naan; I talked to a couple of people who knew very little about him before (insert conspiracy theory about hip-hop’s invisible role in Canadian culture) but who were totally taken with his performance. And I thought he didn’t even perform his best songs. I have to say that I was also impressed that his blue scarf matched not only his shoes, but the electric guitar in his band. I got a chance to compliment him on this. “Thanks, man, I’m really glad you noticed that.”
HS: I like that guy a lot. I remember the first year (when I was on the final jury; K’naan’s first album was nominated) he just had such incredible poise at the meet & greet with the jury before. He was so Ready. Like really, truly ready to be a star and not in a presumptuous or pompous way: just that he takes this shit seriously. This is what he’s going to do, and he’s just very patiently waiting for Canada to wake up and notice.
MB: Okay, my morning’s about to run out and I have to drag myself to work. Surprises? For me it was how smooth the show ran—I had great fear after witnessing some of the four-and-a-half-hour rehearsal in the afternoon—and there were some truly amazing performances. Patrick Watson wandering through the crowd with his traveling Christmas tree of megaphones (and Jian Ghomeshi on percussion) stole the show, I thought; if anyone was still baffled by his win two years ago, they couldn’t deny that this is an incredibly creative and interesting band. I was also impressed by Elliott Brood; in part because Amanda Putz’s eloquent introduction will make me reconsider them, and in part because they were really alive to the spirit in the room.
HS: My other heavy moment, besides Joel Plaskett walking onstage with his dad, was watching Malajube. They are so damn good! I was standing I think next to Carl Wilson and we were both marveling and he said something to the effect that if those songs were in English they’d be the biggest band in Canada. Not that I want them to start singing in English, not at all. I just want them to be bigger (as soon as I’m upright, I’m doing my part and going to the record store to buy Malajube on vinyl). Oh, and I also loved that the punchlines to all of Evelyn Cote’s jokes were delivered in French. That is one classy lady.
MB: She is a class act; I was lucky to sit beside her at the presenters’ table. I also finally met Rob Bowman (who introduced Patrick Watson); he’s a real mensch and a great raconteur. I thought Malajube were okay. I loved Plaskett’s open-tuned guitar solo; I think the K’naan table did too, because they all perked up when that happened. How was the night in fashion for you?
HS: I will not mince words; I’m very gratified that my exhortations to the boys to "wear ties, goddammit" had a visible effect. Did you see Colin Medley! He’s really quite handsome.
MB: You sound surprised!
HS: Not at all, I’m just over indie kid fashion. I’m a grown woman, after all. Rebecca Webster was rocking an off-the-shoulder situation and was bringing the hot with a double-T. Jill Barber was surprisingly gritty-glam rock and roll, good sequins. But, be still my heart – I wanted to take Caitlin Veitch and Sofi Papamarko and put one in each pocket and go home. They really are the two hottest women in Toronto. Honestly, everyone looked so good this year it’s hard to single them out. My work is done.
MB: K’naan was definitely the most dapper. Tony Dekker, sharp dressed man. Worst dressed? That’s easy: Pink Eyes. Dude, we all knew you were going to strip down to your underwear. Why not invest in some lingerie for the occasion?
HS: Do men wear lingerie?
MB: Prince would. Every awards ceremony needs a bit of Purple Rain.
HS: I am enjoying that fact that I’m talking about the hot ladies and you’re all about the dapper gents. Oh! Actually, do you know who looked fabulous—Josh Ostroff and his new hat! He said he bought it, fearing retribution from yours truly. But the urbane Andy Capp situation really works for new papa Ostroff. But back to the music. Metric: woof.
MB: As a surprised, recent convert to Metric, I thought they were fine. It was definitely a low-key beginning to the evening. Best speech of the evening: Patrick Watson, K’naan, Pink Eyes, all of whom articulated the occasion wonderfully in their own way. And Chad Van Gaalen's acceptance was brilliantly loopy.
HS: Speaking of nice articulation, splendid job on the Chad VanGaalen intro there, Barclay. I know I’m not an objective third party by any means, but you really raised the bar. Good on ya.
MB: Thanks, babe. I enjoyed Chad following up my heartfelt introduction by declaring, “Okay, I’m just going to call bullshit on that.” I also think veteran host Grant Lawrence and newbie VJ Sarah Taylor were a surprisingly successful oil-and-water combo; Grant always performs better with a foil. I loved his crack: “I look old enough to be your dad and small enough to be your baby.” Her heels were kind of out of control.
HS: She met Grant beforehand, right? That was unnecessary.
MB: But, as we’re sitting here typing to Bob Wiseman sing “We Got Time” and the line about the boss asking, “why you so late?” I’m realizing that I really have to haul ass to work. I’m also realizing how much this album meant to me 20 years ago, and I’m glad it got some attention with the recent Blocks re-release. Is there some kind of retroactive Polaris hall of fame award?
HS: We should let the listeners know that the 1989 Polaris-winning album In Her Dream by Bob Wiseman is now available, with bonus tracks, from finer record stores everywhere! And Barclay is now standing, hat in hand, by the door asking “where are my shoes?”
(more, possibly, to come)